If you missed our breakfast seminar on ‘Achieving Work-Life Balance’ by Dr Almuth McDowall, fear not! You can read our guest post by Birkbeck University of London, Schools of Business, Economics and Informatics.
International Women’s Day, 8 March, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. To mark the day, the Clubhouse, Mayfair, launched their inaugural Women in Business Fortnight featuring prominent female speakers, by inviting Birkbeck academic Dr Almuth McDowall to discuss work life balance.
The Clubhouse is a leading business club, lounge and meeting space; attendees were offered the opportunity to network over breakfast and discuss the subject matter with peers and new acquaintances. Dr McDowall presented a coherent path through work-life literature and research to set the scene for an evidence-based approach to the topic. The discussion of case studies from previous research and personal anecdotes also ensured the room could relate to the issues at hand.
Practical considerations, such as the cost of childcare, were addressed – agreeing with the Women in Work Index key finding: “In the UK, the lack of access to affordable childcare is a key barrier holding back women from returning to work following motherhood. There is therefore a strong economic case for UK policymakers to improve access to affordable and quality childcare” (PwC March 2016).
Furthermore, the implications of policy were duly noted, particularly in the case of flexible working. Dr McDowall drew on her recent research to suggest that flexible working is not necessarily a solution to work-life balance. Whilst more employees and especially men are now considering flexible work options, it only has positive effects when employees can ‘craft’ a solution which works for them, not when they are being told that their work pattern has to change. Thus, even on International Women’s Day, Dr McDowall was still keen to highlight that work life balance is a subject for both men and women to consider more often and with greater diligence.
However, the audience gathered for the talk did mostly comprise of professional women and concepts such as the ‘second shift’ (Hochschild and Machung, 2012) and ‘mommy track’ (e.g. Judiesch & Lyness, 1999) were defined and addressed. The audience also had the opportunity to interact by considering their own position (current and ideal) on the work separation – work integration scale; do they prefer clear boundaries between work and life, or a blended approach? Either approach can be beneficial, what is important is to get a good fit between personal preference and what work and life have to offer.
Moving on to consider the role of technology in work life balance, the audience could clearly associate with both the positive and negative effects of current information technology. Whilst communication technology can enhance our ability to schedule and can provide the infrastructure required for remote working, Dr McDowall introduced the concepts of technology and internet addiction (Quinones, Griffiths and Kakabadse, 2016) and e-resilience (e.g. Grant, Wallace & Spurgeon, 2013), stimulating considered discussion within the group.
Dr McDowall said “This is a fascinating but complex area of research, I am really keen to encourage our Birkbeck students to build up research in the area. One of our recent MSc graduates, Buki Ogunde, collected great data doing thought provoking research with NHS managers looking at how they use technology to manage the boundaries between work and home. We found that technology really is your friend and your foe – a great enabler to help us get on top of things, but it’s a double edged sword, as it’s all too easy to keep going and be ‘always on’ as a result.
A next step in our research planning process is to look more carefully at who is responsible for managing work life balance. We found that in many organisations this has now become a communications role, around the use of technology. This is important of course, as so much business communication is done via technology, but we must not forget that humans are involved, and that we need to consider the psychological effects. This is where our team can help.
This brings me to the role of psychology in the work place. I am a passionate advocate for the contribution that our research and practice can make, which is why I have been very involved in making the training path for occupational (work) psychologists fit for purpose. We need to be able to bridge a rigorous evidence-based approach with real understanding of business needs; you can’t have one without the other if you want to make a real difference to people’s working lives.
It’s curious just how many organisational practices might not be as evidence based as one might expect, I am on a mission to change this. Recent CIPD funded research looked at the “power and pitfalls of executive rewards”, I had the chance to present this at a City Wealth Event yesterday, 7 March. I was half worried beforehand that my talk would be an old hat for the audience, high powered women across finance, law and other professional contexts. I need not have had any doubts about the relevance and currency of this research, they were excited to hear about the psychological evidence, which tells us clearly that the motivating effects of money are limited, and that we value immediate, rather than deferred rewards. All of this goes against what’s happening in the upper echelons at the moment!”
Alongside Dr McDowall, the Clubhouse’s Women in Business Fortnight also features Julie Meyer MBE, Mich Turner MBE and Nancy Cruickshank as speakers.